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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Ode to Bread

October 31, 2014

I love bread. I really, really love bread. I probably love bread too much. If there were a twelve-step program for bread addiction, I would be chairing the meetings.

Earlier this year I went gluten free for Lent. I will admit that I felt better during that long and tortuous season— and I lost weight— but I missed bread. I really, really missed bread.

I have tried to keep my bread consumption to a minimum since then, but I haven’t been very successful. Bread is the best thing since… well, since sliced bread. My waist has paid the price

My book editor in New York once told me that he “only eats bread, meat, and cheese if it’s good quality.” I like that philosophy. He’s a skinny little fellow, too. It makes perfect sense not to deny oneself some of the greatest pleasures in the culinary word. In his plan fast food hamburgers are out, but a quality steak at a restaurant is in. He would never eat American cheese slices, but feels free to enjoy a small portion of pecorino Romano. When it comes to bread, he skips grocery store loaves twist-tied in plastic and opts for freshly baked breads from the bakery.

I mostly crave breads in the morning. That is a good thing because I can follow my editor’s plan and eat breakfast at the French bakery across the street from my office. I swear I had a croissant over there last week that was BETTER than any I have eaten in France. Ever. It was warm, and fresh out of the oven, and so good that I wanted all others sitting around me to observe a moment of silence while I ate it.

However, I am not a breakfast bread snob. I love a really good homemade biscuit, too, especially with country ham and blackberry preserves. I went through a period a few years ago when I was eating a bagel dipped in salted extra-virgin olive oil for breakfast.

We have a great bagel shop in the downtown section of my hometown, and it stays busy. Though a bagel place opened here about 20 years ago and it didn’t go over too well. The first time I visited that original bagel place I was standing in line behind two elderly men. They seemed to be a little confused by all of the bagel varieties and most of the menu offerings. They were seated next to me a few minutes later and I heard one of them say, “Aw, Joe, this ain’t nothin’ but a chewy biscuit with a hole in it.”

The French are known for baking good bread, but the Italians do a good job with bread, too. We bake fresh ciabatta in our white tablecloth restaurant daily. It’s not an Italian-themed restaurant, but I love the rustic characteristics of that bread so much, we decided to stop baking quick breads and muffins. Ciabatta is the Italian cousin of the French baguette.

At our Italian restaurant be bake a lot of fresh focaccia seasoned with olive oil and herbs. In my opinion, it’s the perfect bread when eating an Italian meal. Both ciabatta and focaccia are great for sandwiches, too.

I love Tuscany but I don’t love their bread. For some strange reason the Tuscans don’t use salt when baking their bread. To me, salt is essential to bread making.

In the end, is it worth a few extra pounds, a spare tire around the gut, and not being the picture of fitness when I look in the mirror, just so I can eat bread? Absolutely.

I am Robert and I am a breadaholic. I am powerless over bread and my gluten consumption has become unmanageable. Now pass the butter and the chewy biscuit with a hole in it.

Baked Shrimp Toast

1 1 /2 cups small shrimp, (approximately 10 ounces)

1 quart water

1 tsp crab boil

1 tsp salt

8 ounce package cream cheese

1 TBSP finely minced onion

1 /2 cup mayonnaise

1 /4 cup sour cream

1 /2 tsp minced garlic

1 /4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp creole mustard

2 TBL finely chopped green onions

1 tsp hot sauce

1 /4 tsp old bay seasoning

1 /8  tsp cayenne pepper

1 small loaf French bread, cut into 1 1 /2 inch rounds


In a sauce pot, bring water, crab boil, and salt to a boil. Cook shrimp thoroughly, drain and cool. When shrimp has cooled, rough chop into small pieces.

Combine all remaining ingredients except French bread. Add shrimp.

Spread a thick layer of shrimp mixture onto French bread rounds. Place rounds on a baking sheet and freeze. When completely frozen, transfer to an airtight plastic bag.

To cook: Preheat oven to 350. Remove from freezer. Place on baking sheet and cook 15 minutes.

Makes 25-30 toasts.


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